Monday, October 16, 2023


As if Taylor Swift wasn’t already a big deal, the Eras Tour further cemented her already secure place as one of the top pop acts of this century. Every stop on her concert brought out thousands of screaming fans lucky (or wealthy) enough to score a ticket. There they’d witness a lengthy whirlwind tour of each album in her career’s evolution—from her debut albums as a Fearless country teen to her bopping twenties Reputation and folksy early-thirties Evermore as global pop superstar. Putting it all in a row—in a pleasingly shaped achronolgical order with each album given its own set—and in such quantity—a breathless three-hour extravaganza with only the shortest of quick changes for breaks—throws in even greater relief the skill of her song-craft. Every pop star has hits. She has an oeuvre. There’s a consistency of vision across the evolving sound—recurring images, ideas, preoccupations, personality quirks, poetic turns, and stylistic tics. Her songs are at once joyful and melancholic, personal and universal, so specific and vivid that in speaking to experiences, real or imagined, she creates whole stories, whole emotional worlds, in just a few lines. At her best, we feel along with her all too well. As concertgoers experience 40 some songs spanning 17 years, the energy and excitement is a swirling mix of the awestruck and the intimate, the spectacle and the singular. She commands the stage alone with a guitar or piano as well or better than with fireworks and lightshows. Either way, there is one figure—no stretch to compare her to Dylan or Madonna at this point—who commands attention across generations, in every iteration, while remaining only herself.

If nothing else, Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour is a movie as a work of cultural preservation. A concert is ephemeral. Cinema feels like forever. For those who couldn’t find, or afford, tickets to the tour, and for current and future people wondering what the fuss was about, this movie preserves the experience. For those of us who want to relive the concert, it’s an effective, transporting reminder. It’s a loud, and bright, and relentless machine of a movie—the most efficient music delivery device on this scale since BeyoncĂ© played Coachella. It’s sheer pop pleasure. It also affords the best seat in the house, sitting in awe of her command of the stage, how the slightest gesture sets off ecstatic reactions for adoring fans. The camera’s constantly panning, spinning, tracking, appreciating. The editing can be percussive, chopping on the beat to the musical climaxes or restraining to capture a big flourish of stagecraft or stillness. The image is frequently moving in for close-ups and medium shots of Swift that celebrate and admire without leering at her statuesque stance, her ebullient back up dancers and singers, her strutting, flouncing confidently limited dance moves, and her wardrobe—from sparkly dresses and frilly coats to a snaky bodysuit. But the sound design—so clear and concussive—balances the crowd noise just enough to give you a taste of the size and scale of the experience as the background constellation of multicolor light-up bracelets rarely leaves the frame. A faithful capturing of the performance in all its detail is what’s valuable here.

As a work of filmmaking, it’s clear who the auteur is. It’s not director Sam Wrench, a veteran of simply and unobtrusively capturing live performance, having helmed concert specials for Brandi Carlile, BTS, Billie Eilish, and some episodes of American Idol. He may have gathered the slick footage, and assembled it far more professionally than the shaky amateur clips that dripped out over the summer. But the driving personality is clearly Swift herself. She’s a filmmaker in her own right—having taken the chair for her last several music videos and a pandemic-era performance of her Folklore album. Here she’s content to be the star, knowing that she has a show to put on that’ll satisfy even when the electric live element is removed. The moviemaking of The Eras Tour film bends to the force of the concert, with no stylistic flourishes, cinematographic personality, or contextual perspective of its own beyond bringing the live experience into the preservation of this form. I thought of a passage from the great French filmmaker Robert Bresson’s book Notes on the Cinematograph: “A film cannot be a stage show, because a stage show requires flesh-and-blood presence. But it can be…the photographic reproduction of a stage show. The photographic reproduction of a stage show is comparable to the photographic reproduction of a painting or of a sculpture…[They are] historical documents whose place is in the archives…” It’s not the same, but what a document! As the communal, flesh-and-blood presence of the concert dissipates, the archives will have this fun record.

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